“On the Circumference of Jesus Christ”: Karl Barth and Sanctification as Covenant Repetition

In Barth’s theology, faith and sanctification just like justification are not static. Saving faith is also no disposition that we use to reach out to God. Faith in the real saving form is humility. This humility takes several forms, but Barth seems to emphasize the obedience of humility. As creatures exercise faith they recognize their place in relation to the creator. The pride of man is completely destroyed in faith because man sees that he has no claims upon God. Second, obedience speaks of a life that is lived in accordance with the Word of God. As the Word of God reaches man, man cannot but conform his life to the life of the one who condescends and reaches out to lowly creatures. The imitatio Christi is actualized in the encounter of the ethical agent and the One who summons in freedom.

Sanctifying action is free, but its freedom is in relation to the one who gives freedom. In classical Barthian terms, he sketches this under the rubrics of exaltation and humiliation. Contrary to the Orthodox Reformed perspective these are not subsequent moments. Moreover, humiliation and exaltation cannot be “comprehended in a single word.” Whether we look at it as movement from above to below or from below to above it is the total work of reconciliation of the one and undivided Jesus Christ.

Recent evangelical attempts to retrieve this unique movement of humiliation and exaltation for the doctrine of atonement such as Jeremy Treat’s “The Crucified King” have opened the pathway for critical exploration of Barth’s actualism without resorting to rejection of classic metaphysics.

The goal of the paper is to sketch this actualizing event “on the circumference of Christ” (CD IV/2, 515) of humiliation and exaltation and draw some important implications for an evangelical doctrine of sanctification. Through a detail exposition of §66 I will show how the “covenant repetition” of Jesus Christ in and for us (in humiliation and exaltation) bridges a gap between the language of double grace of union. Barth’s doctrine of sanctification can be a resource how one speaks about sanctification without resorting to an intellectualistic anthropological notion of human response to divine action.

3 thoughts on ““On the Circumference of Jesus Christ”: Karl Barth and Sanctification as Covenant Repetition”

  1. Interesting
    I think this may be an very interesting paper and should be accepted — but possibly more in Barth studies or systematic theology. It has a place here, but the paper seems to take on more than can be addresseed in a short time. So it is worthy of acceptance somewhere — could be very thoughtful on Barth and sanctification.

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